Ukraine's Future: Russia's Challenge or EU's Headache?
GMF Warsaw office in cooperation with the United Kingdom’s Embassy in Poland organized an event titled: Ukraine's Future: Russia's Challenge or EU's Headache?. The panel discussion began with condolences on behalf of the organizers to the people of Ukraine who fought and died in Maidan, Kiev struggling to overthrow President Viktor Yanukovych’s regime.
Ms. Sarah Tiffin, Deputy Chief of Mission at the UK Embassy in Poland made the introductory remarks by saying that British Foreign Secretary William Hague is currently in the U.S. talking with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) about the possibility of international community providing the newly established Ukrainian government with $35 billion aid to improve the country’s economy. Ms. Tiffin said that international community must help Ukraine establish a constitutional democracy and the rule of law, and giving the country’s geo-strategic significance, the EU and the U.S. should remain actively engaged.
Michał Baranowski, Director of the GMF Warsaw office and the discussion moderator asked Oleh Shamshur, the former Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. and GMF’s Non-Resident Fellow, about a readout from the current situation in Ukraine. Mr. Shamshur said that Ukrainian people are feeling relieved, but there is no joy amongst them. Many still mourn the dead. He said that recent events in Maidan are the result of a political roller-coaster in the Ukrainian parliament. The protesters sensed the crumbling of political elites much sooner than the politicians and were very determined to enter the parliament building. Eventually, Yanukovych abandoned the capital and the Ukrainian parliament voted him out, and the protesters withdraw – at least for now.
Mr. Shamshur said that the Maidan revolution began as a pro-European struggle and remained an important part of the revolution, but in fact it was more about overthrowing the corrupt politicians. The common people were fatigued with government’s broken promises. He said that it was good for the opposition to take control of the country, but even they are working against the clock. Until the new government introduces reforms and disallows oligarchs and former Yanukovych cronies to enter the parliament, the protesters will remain at their posts. The Ambassador said that returning to politics as usual will at this stage only bring more discontent. The second set of challenges, he said, is to keep Ukraine united. There has been a lot of resignation from local governments in different regions and reports of protests in Crimea, where Russian Cossacks are most likely to clash with Crimean Tatars. Disruptions in Crimea could trigger Russian intervention. Another problem involves fixing Ukraine’s miserable economy. With no swift economic package, Ukraine cannot introduce new reforms. The country should also adopt a working constitution, which may happen following the snap parliamentary elections later this year.
Jarosław Bratkiewicz, Political Director at Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland said that in the case of Ukraine the world is witnessing a form of colour revolutions, which are sparked by people with modern ideas, that eventually end up with old-style regimes. Mr. Bratkiewicz said that is hard to continue with politics when it is subject to currupt baroness-type rule. He said that Maidan protesters won an unequivocal success in a country that has proven to be completely unpredictable. He also praised Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland, Germany and France for their efforts to convince the government to sign an agreement with the opposition.
When asked about the perceptions from Brussels and Berlin regarding the situation in Ukraine, Ulrich Speck, Visiting Scholar at Carnegie Europe said that this time the EU played a very important role in the process of resolving the Ukrainian crisis. The EU should have put stronger support for Ukraine countries following Chancellor Markel’s speech at the Eastern Partnership (EoP) Summit in Vilnius last year, and perhaps sign an association agreement with Russia. But this time at least, France and Germany played along with the rest of the EU and sending the three foreign ministers to Maidan proved to be a successful strategy. Russia is now unhappy with the outcomes in Ukraine and is likely to remain a regional challenge, being as usual, hard to predict in terms of what it wants to achieve. The problem is, Mr. Speck said, that no one within the EU have the appetite to engage Russia in fear of a new Cold War. Russia is angry now, but maybe in few weeks following the recent events in Ukraine, the moods will calm down and discussions over Ukraine with the EU will resume.
The later part of the debate focused on whether or not the EU should engage Russia on discussions over Ukraine’s future. The argument was split amongst those who believed that Russia is involved no matter the EU stance and those who said Ukraine should decide its own faith. Most agreed however, that the EU machine is most successful in mid-long term perspectives and the more authoritarian regimes like Russia have the ability to act quickly, preventing this EU machine to properly function. All agreed that Ukraine should also prove its willingness to be part of the EU and ask for assistance once the political and economic situation resolves. On the other hand, the stronger the pull from the West, the easier it will be to convince the people of Ukraine that staying closer to Europe is more prosperous for their future than engagement with Russia. The geopolitical game over Ukraine is defiantly on.
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